With opposition mounting against the controversial Flushing riverfront rezoning, Interim Queens Borough President Sharon Lee has remained quiet on her position. During a contentious public hearing at Queens Borough Hall last Thursday, dozens of residents and community leaders packed into a cramped conference room to lambaste the project for its lack of affordable housing and environmental review. John Choe, Community Board 7 member and Executive director of the Greater Flushing Chamber of Commerce, gave an impassioned speech highlighting the effect the project may have on children in the community.
“The proposal’s failure to adequately address the lack of affordability is especially troubling. We recently met with the principal of JHS 189, who raised concerns about the lack of affordability in the local community and the continued displacement of many residents and businesses,” said Choe. “As a result, her students are often left to fend for themselves when their parents are forced to find work or move their businesses to other communities.”
The hearing came in the wake of Community Board 7’s vote in favor of the rezoning and is the second phase of the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) in which the borough president has a 30-day window to review the plan and give an advisory recommendation. That would require a borough president recommendation by March 11. Yet, with a special election for a new Borough President coming up on March 24 to replace Melinda Katz, who is now the borough’s district attorney, and an interim BP currently in place, some opponents of the rezoning feel like the plan is being rushed through.
“The plan will ultimately displace lower income community members, immigrant families, small businesses, and advance the gentrification of the neighborhood, said Annetta Seecharran, Executive Director, Chhaya CDC. “This process is being railroaded so that no one has time to ask questions, point out the inconsistencies in the plan, nor has it given the opportunity for community input.”
Ross Moskowitz, one of the attorneys representing the developers, believes they are taking all the appropriate steps that are required of them by law.“The ULURP is specifically governed by the New York City Charter, and the borough president’s feedback is an advisory, interim step in this process. As the project was well underway before a new borough president was even being considered, there was no reason to delay.”
Assemblyman Ron Kim (D-40), whose district the project lies in, opposes the plan, believing that whoever the borough president is, they should prioritize community over profits. “When it comes to the ULURP process, whether it is the interim borough president or next elected borough president, I believe the most important question is if they will focus on the fundamental needs of the community impacted by this rezoning plan”, he said. “Our neighborhoods desperately need more affordable housing, schools and improved public transportation, not more luxury condos and hotels, which will lead to greater gentrification and displacement of my constituents.”
The proposal, spearheaded by the Flushing Willets Point Corona Local Development Corporation (FWPCLDC), calls for the development of the Special Flushing Waterfront District on a 29-acre stretch of industrial property along Flushing Creek. The new district will accommodate a profusion of mixed-use developments with more than 1,700 apartments, retail, a hotel, and open space at an estimated cost of $1 billion.
Presently, much of the land could be developed as of right, with developers only seeking the rezoning of the northernmost section, which is currently zoned for manufacturing. In exchange for the rezoning, developers promise to build 100 below-market-rate apartments, publicly accessible parkland and a road network that will integrate with the existing street grid.
“The rezoning will allow for a much better design, more efficient buildings and an overall better plan that provides a more comprehensive benefits package to the community,” said Moskowitz. “This includes a larger waterfront, more open space and a more efficient road network. The rezoning at the northern end also allows for new housing – including affordable – which couldn’t be done if it was built, as-of-right.”
Despite the purported benefits, critics such as Annetta Seecharran remain skeptical, believing that developers are not taking into account the environmental impact such a massive project could have on the community. “A full Environmental Impact Study should be conducted to assess the project’s true impact on the already densely populated neighborhood.”
Assemblyman Kim echoes that sentiment. “At minimum, whichever borough president makes the final decision, they should request a full environmental impact review to truly engage with the public, and study the short and long-term consequences of this rezoning plan on all members of the community.”
Interim President Lee’s office declined to comment on her position after numerous inquiries from City Limits, nor did they disclose when she would be making her recommendation.
However, several candidates for Borough President, such as City Councilman Costa Constantinides (D-22), have already publicly stated their opposition to the plan.”Queens faces a severe affordable housing crisis, while Flushing Creek has been overtaxed by pollution for generations,” he told City Limits. “This proposal offers hardly any affordable housing, doesn’t promise to hire union labor, nor does it provide the investment the creek deserves. For those reasons I’m not sure how we can move forward with this proposal, and should consider building true affordable housing that also provides good jobs for Queens residents who need them most.”
Former NYPD Sergeant Anthony Miranda, who is also running for borough president, shared similar thoughts with the Queens Daily Eagle “This project is consistent with all the luxury development that has been going on. I want to put a moratorium on luxury development.” (Elizabeth Crowley, Jim Quinn, Donovan Richards and Dao Yin are also candidates for Queens beep. Jimmy Van Bramer is also on the ballot but has dropped out of the contest.
Ultimately, Councilmember Peter Koo (D-20), whose district includes the proposed project site, will have the final decision. After the borough president’s recommendation, the proposal moves to binding votes by the Planning Commission and then the City Council. Per tradition, the Council usually votes in accordance with the local members. Koo has not publicly taken a position on the project.